Lucky's Woman
Linda Winstead Jones

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“Miss Lockhart…”

“Annie, please.”

He lifted one eyebrow, just slightly. “I don’t want to waste your money or my time chasing after a dream. Maybe you should, uh, see a doctor about your nightmares. Medication is a good thing.”

For a long moment, Annie didn’t move. She’d been so certain the Benning Agency was the one. The name had popped off the page, hadn’t it? She’d felt such a great relief after she’d talked to Mr. Calhoun on the phone early this morning. And now this man was all but calling her crazy. How could she convince him that she needed his help?

Annie could keep her psychic gift dormant most of the time, but just like the time in Nashville, the dreams didn’t seem to care if she practiced or not. The vivid nightmares were bad enough, but when they came—as they had done this past week and as they had five years ago—they didn’t come alone. Waking and sleeping, she knew things she shouldn’t. If she kept herself busy, she could push the clairvoyance to the back of her mind. But when she concentrated, when she cleared her mind and reached for that which she shouldn’t know, her mind didn’t stay clear for long. Sometimes she didn’t have to reach; the knowledge was just there. She saw images…she heard voices. Until the man who’d killed the couple was caught, the problem wouldn’t go away.

She cleared her mind now, pushing away the everyday thoughts that had kept her sane in the days past so she could convince this man to help her. “He killed this couple because they were happy,” she said, gathering as much calm as she could. “He stalked them, he watched their every move for…months.” She whispered the last word, as it came to her. “He loved and hated and envied them, and then when he got tired of watching, he murdered them.”

“Miss Lockhart…”

“Even if I dared to go to the authorities, the sheriff won’t listen to me,” Annie said frantically. “He and anyone else I go to will write me off as a nutcase, and word will get around, and pretty soon everyone in town will be whispering behind my back. Some of them will wonder if maybe it’s true that I have unnatural abilities, but more of them will laugh. Worse, some of them will think that if I know anything I shouldn’t, then I had something to do with the murders. I like my life as it is, Mr. Santana, but I can’t just ignore what I saw and let it go. I had the dreams for a reason. I picked your agency for a reason.” She didn’t realize that her voice had been rising with each word until she almost shouted the last one.

“This isn’t the sort of case my agency normally takes. Perhaps you should call someone—”

Annie shot up and crossed the short distance between her and the handsome and aggravating Lucky Santana. She reached down and placed her hand on his shoulder. There was immediate tension in his shoulder, in his neck and the way he held his arm.

She didn’t really know how to call upon her gift when she needed it. During the few times in her life when this had happened she’d done her best to cut herself off from the unnatural ability, not call it up. Annie’s mother had been so embarrassed by her own mother’s abilities. She’d hated the fact that she was the daughter of a freak. The very idea that her daughter might be afflicted as well had been difficult for her. She’d insisted that Annie not pursue the life of a psychic, and her argument was a good one. Grams had practiced; she’d practiced a lot. And it hadn’t done her a damn bit of good.

From her limited past experience she understood that contact would be a good thing. She already knew Lucky Santana didn’t believe her.

A vision immediately popped into her mind. The first thing that came to her made her twitch, and she almost drew her hand in and jumped back. She saw, with a clarity so sharp she held her breath, this gorgeous man hovering above her. Naked. The fan on her bedroom ceiling whirred slowly over his left shoulder. He had a small crescent-shaped scar on that finely sculpted shoulder. An old one. The expression on his face was—she shivered—feral. Possessive. Hungry. Was she seeing what some hidden part of her wanted to see, or was this what was meant to be? What might be?

She forced herself to reach beyond the vision for something else. Something she could actually use. “I’m sorry,” she said softly. “I usually try to stop these visions, not bring them on. I don’t have any control over what comes to me.”

“I see,” Santana said, his voice dripping with sarcasm and disbelief.

Annie forced herself to relax. Given what she’d just seen, she should send this man away as quickly as possible. Maybe the Benning Agency wasn’t the one after all. Maybe she needed to start all over. Lucky Santana was a heartbreaker, and the last thing she needed was to get involved with a man who wouldn’t stay. “The redhead is right, you are commitment phobic,” she said.

Santana flinched slightly beneath her hand, but didn’t shove her away. He still wasn’t convinced.

“A new office?” The longer she worked at seeing inside this man, the easier it became. She relaxed, a little. What she needed to convince him that she wasn’t a nut would come—or it wouldn’t. She had to trust herself, just this once. “You don’t think you’ll like that sort of work, spending all that time in what’s basically an administrative role, but once you get settled you’ll find you like it more than you’d imagined you could.” She cocked her head to one side and looked into his amazing amber eyes.

He was dressed conservatively, and his haircut was traditional. But there was nothing conservative about those eyes. They were fire and ice. Passion and indifference.

Everything about him was cool, even his voice as he said, “If you’re trying to convince me you can read minds, you’re doing a poor job. You haven’t told me anything Cal couldn’t have mentioned over the phone.”

“The man you work for would share such personal information with a potential client?”

“If it means yanking my chain, yeah.” He stood, and her hand dropped away. “I enjoyed the drive over, so I’m going to tell Cal not to bill you for this call. Miss Lockhart, I do advise you to speak with a doctor or a therapist as soon as possible.”

Lucky Santana was almost to the door. He was, in fact, reaching for the doorknob. If he walked out, what would she do? Maybe the Benning Agency would send someone else, but Santana was the one to help her—she knew it. She felt it. What could she say to make him understand?

“You don’t really love her,” she called as Santana opened the door. He stopped, turned to look at her with blazing eyes and slammed the door shut.

“You don’t really love her,” Annie said again, more softly this time. And then she began to hum the tune that popped into her head.

Chapter 2

It wasn’t an easy song to hum, and Annie Lockhart couldn’t carry a tune. And still, Lucky immediately recognized the song. “Sexy Sadie.”

He’d been very careful to keep his occasional romantic musings about Sadie to himself. No one knew how he felt—how he sometimes thought he might feel. Not even Sadie. For a moment Lucky was blindingly angry. Somehow the men he worked with did know, and this was an elaborate setup intended to embarrass him. A practical joke. And then he looked into Annie Lockhart’s eyes and saw the unshed tears.

If this was a joke, she wasn’t in on it.

Annie Lockhart was blond, blue-eyed and average height. Maybe a bit taller than average, thanks to those long legs encased in faded denim. The couple of inches of skin he could see between the waistband and the hem of her shirt, which was adorned with a little sparkly stuff, was shapely enough to draw any man’s eye. She was slender—but not thin. Nice build, but nothing eye-popping. Quirky, even without the hat. Her blond hair was soft and straight, but the cut was uneven and purposely ragged, giving her a tousled look. And she hadn’t looked squarely at him since she’d told him he “didn’t love her.”

“It’s…it’s trust,” Lockhart said in a lowered voice, when she finished humming. “You’ve confused trust and love, which is easy enough to do, I suppose.”

Lucky took a few steps into the room, moving closer so he could see her face. He didn’t believe in psychic abilities, but he did believe in instincts. He had pretty damn good instincts himself, honed over the years to a fine edge. Maybe in some part of her brain that she didn’t understand, Annie Lockhart had put the pieces of this murder puzzle together and come up with answers she couldn’t explain. Images from television, details from the newspaper, gossip…all pieces of a puzzle that had led her to believe she knew something she didn’t. A couple days of investigation, if that, should prove that all her suppositions were wrong.

And the bit about Sadie? He wasn’t ready to go there just yet.

“I’ll give you two days, Miss Lockhart.”

She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, in obvious relief. “Thank you,” she whispered.

“Don’t thank me yet,” Lucky said sharply. “I think you’re full of crap, and I’ll be more than happy to prove it and then send you the bill.” The Benning Agency didn’t come cheap, but handling financial concerns was Cal’s job—not Lucky’s. “I’ll need to find a hotel room….”

“Oh, I’ve taken care of that,” the blonde said lightly. “It’s a bed-and-breakfast, actually. You’ll be much more comfortable there than you would be in a hotel, and it’s just down the road.”

Lucky thrust his hands in his pants pockets—so he wouldn’t strangle the client. “You made a reservation for me? Before I got here and agreed to take the job?”

“Instead of being irritable, you should thank me. This is a very busy time of year in the area, with the leaves changing colors and the weather turning cool. I didn’t know who Mr. Calhoun would send, of course, so just give Kristie my name when you check in.”

Since he had agreed to take her case, Annie Lockhart had relaxed considerably. She smiled a little, and the tears in her pretty blue eyes had dried, he noticed, as she gave him directions to the bed-and-breakfast down the hill. She was cute, but not his type. The women he dated were always beautiful. Not just cute, not merely pretty. He was drawn to women who turned heads in a major way. This woman was pretty enough, but she probably had never entered a room and immediately garnered every man’s attention—unless she sauntered in wearing a ridiculous hat like the one she’d been wearing when she’d opened the door.

His gaze skimmed her from head to toe—not for the first time—and lingered on the toes. The toenails were painted pink, and she wore one toe ring. A yellow flower. He’d bet his last dollar she had a tattoo. Somewhere. No, she was definitely not his type.

Annie Lockhart gave a brief and accurate description of the bed-and-breakfast where he’d apparently be staying. He remembered passing the large, old house on the way in. It was less than five minutes away.

Suddenly he couldn’t wait to get out of this cabin. “I’ll check into my room and call the office. In the morning we’ll get—”

“Tonight,” she interrupted. “We need to get started tonight.”


Suddenly she looked vulnerable again, too young and too naive to be involved in discussions of murder. “The dreams won’t stop unless I’m doing all I can to stop this killer. I can’t have those dreams again tonight. I just can’t. Come back after you check into your room and make your phone calls. I’ll cook supper for us, and we can get started.” She took a deep breath. “Please.”

“All right, Ms. Lockhart.”

“Call me Annie,” she said, not for the first time. “If we’re going to be working together…” She shrugged her shoulders, and for some reason she shifted her glance so that she was looking away from him and out a small window, even though there wasn’t much to see beyond those particular panes of glass. After a moment, she forced her gaze back in his direction.

He should invite her to call him Lucky, but he hesitated. He was already too close to liking Annie Lockhart for some reason, and the last thing he needed was to get involved with a kooky chick who wore extravagant hats and thought she was psychic. “I’ll check back with you in a couple of hours,” he said, turning away and heading—again—for the door. He really should get in his car, head for home and call Cal from there.

“Thank you, Lucky,” Annie called as he opened the door on a wonderfully cool afternoon. “I really don’t know what I’d do if you refused to help.”
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